Matt Hancock and HRH Duchess of Cornwall see COVID-19 detection dog training

Professor James Logan, Matt Hancock and Dr Claire Guest at Paddington Station with one of the trial dogs, Asher

Dogs being trained to sniff out COVID-19 have received a VIP visit for a training demonstration in London.

The Duchess of Cornwall and Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock saw the dogs doing a training exercise at Paddington Station.

The ARCTEC team at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) in collaboration with the charity Medical Detection Dogs and Durham University, are leading a trial to determine whether these dogs can accurately detect COVID-19 from odour samples provided by the public and NHS staff.

If successful, the specially-trained dogs could be used as a new rapid, non-invasive testing measure for COVID-19.

The Duchess and Matt Hancock were met by the trial lead Professor James Logan from LSHTM, and Dr Claire Guest, CEO of Medical Detection Dogs. They saw an example of how these dogs could be used to in a busy public space during Phase 2 of the trial, running through a training exercise with the dog and the trainers walking down a line, and then a group, of people until the dog detects the training odour and sits down to indicate presence of the odour.

Three members of the ARCTEC team who are involved in processing the body odour samples were able to meet the dogs and take part in passive screening demonstration.

It is still early days for the trial, which is funded by the Department of Health & Social Care, and the team need the public’s help to collect more samples before they can tell for certain whether dogs can detect COVID-19 accurately. Anyone in England who has mild COVID-19 symptoms, and is due to have a swab test, or has had a swab test conducted in the past 72 hours, can provide samples of breath and body odour by wearing a mask for three hours, and nylon socks and a t-shirt for twelve hours.

Professor James Logan said: “It was a pleasure to update Matt Hancock and HRH The Duchess of Cornwall on our work. If successful, this trial could allow us to rapidly screen high numbers of people, even those who are asymptomatic. This could revolutionise how we diagnose this virus, helping return our lives back to some sort of normality.”

Once the samples have been collected, they are taken to LSHTM for analysis to identify compounds in odour that signify when someone is infected with COVID-19.

The samples are then sent to Medical Detection Dogs where the dogs undergo training to identify the virus from the samples.

If this initial phase of the trial is successful, the dogs will begin training in more public spaces to get them used to working in distracting surroundings, so this event is a good chance to test their skills amongst the bustle of a busy London station.

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